How good is Nic Petan?: Part 1 – Words and Math

Sent out with the first cuts, Nic Petan was barely around long enough to turn me into a teenage girl over him. Barely. He wears a gold chain while he plays and once I saw him fake a hard shot in practice and instead lob it over the goalie’s shoulder. OMG! 

But I’m here to reclaim my reason. Or, alternatively, found a fan club. Part one will look at what we know about Petan already through scouting reports, and further consider his NHL scoring through three possible equivalency numbers. Part two (next week) will look at his historical comparables.

So, how good is Nic Petan?


Let’s start with some scouting reports. 

The only consistent knock on Petan is, of course, his size. Size, size, size. It becomes a buzz word with its own narrative that makes every sub-six-footer a David amidst 600 Goliaths. But as Kent Wilson said in his exceptional draft preview of Petan, the real challenge for under-sized players is that they only have one role to play – they have to score. 

Hockey Futures intimates the same with their rating of Petan, which is as close as we come to a criticism of the skilled forward. They give him a 7.5 D. In words, they believe his up-side to be a good second line player, but consider the likelihood he gets there low. They even think he could top out at 4.5 (a good minor league player). Again – it’s all or nothing for the smaller guys. 

Our first reaction, then, is to ask whether Petan can score enough to make and stay in the NHL some day. The truth is, I think Petan is beyond that limited conversation.

Self-made prospect-expert Corey Pronman gave us this breakdown in August:

Petan is a tremendously skilled forward with a ton of puck possession tools. His puck skills and hockey sense are both high end, and he has the ability to create scoring chances with consistency. Petan controls the puck very well, makes defenders miss, and executes a lot of difficult plays. His vision is very good, as he sees all of the options, and he hits his targets through difficult passing lanes. Petan works hard, plays at a high pace, and has a good first few steps.

Pronman focuses on Petan’s offensive skills, which he clearly considers high-end.

In my review of Petan from the Young Stars Tournament, I was most impressed with his play away from the puck. To me, Petan’s hockey sense was the best I saw in the tournament and though I fully expected to see some offence, I didn’t expect to see him generate it through patient play, puck support, and advanced anticipation. 

The meat of my first game review: 

Petan showed singular puck support and awareness without the puck. Moreover, with the puck he controlled the Sharks’ 5-man unit and distributed expertly from the middle. His anticipation appeared elite in this game. He was often two events ahead of the play and one event ahead of the other players. His pucks skills were edge-of-your-seat good, and his awareness for his linemates exceptional. His shot has a quick release with a variety of release points, and his skating is plus or elite in this tournament. 

So many words…

When Petan does turn pro, there is no doubt he will be pressured to produce considerable offence and show creativity enough to convince a coach to give up several inches of open ice when compared to a larger player (and coaches hate open ice). But to my mind, in scouting reports at least, he’s already beaten the Brett Sterling / Ramzi Abid / Linus Omark comparables of a one-dimensional scorer who has to prove it at the highest levels. We’re now talking about a two-way player, a complete player, who needs to bring enough offence to compensate for his poor physical game rather than enough to compensate for his complete lack of other useful hockey skills. Some teams don’t employ these types of players often, but even Rich Peverly won a cup with Boston from a checking role with just 51 recorded hits in 127 Bruin games. 


With so few stats tracked and/or released in the CHL, the best math we have is in the form of NHL Equivalencies for boxcars. That is, measuring how a player’s scoring will translate from one league to another based on previous examples from the same league. So for this section, we have to put down our ideas of Petan as a two-way player and consider his scoring alone. 

*NB: We also have to assume a development path for Petan. I could have chosen the AHL route (like Derek Roy or Tyler Ennis), but I’ve instead chosen to compare him to players who went straight from Junior to the show. Naturally, there is the question of whether he can even make the NHL. Lower leagues are littered with high-scoring players of smaller stature, and there are countless small players (from two-time WHL 100 point-getter Brandon Kozun to the constantly-fighting-for-a-job mobile fire hydrant Nathan Gerbe) who tell us that counting NHL points before they appear in ink is a fool’s game. But that makes a fan club similarly foolish, and then what am I going to do with my life? So let’s continue pretending he does make it.

Currently, we have a few ways to calculate NHLE’s. Prior to this summer, we would have used Desjardins’s 0.3 for the WHL, which gives us 41.5 for Petan’s draft year. Vollman’s Hockey Abstract released this year uses exclusively data since 2005 and offers a slightly lower projection for the WHL – just 0.26 – which brings Petan’s equivalent NHL scoring total down to 36.

I’ve decided to look at a third, more specific equivalency number. The knock on Petan is not his skill, but his size and physical readiness. As such, Tyler Myers (for example) is hardly a useful translation number for us when looking at Petan’s specific case. Instead, I’ve used a more targeted list.

The following are WHL forwards under 6′ tall who moved directly to the NHL between 2005/06 and last season. We can debate the size cut off as it was derived deductively (read: arbitrarily) rather than inductively, but I’ll leave that for the comments. Let’s look at some data already. 

    WHL Stats NHL Stats WHL NHL
AGE Player GP G A PTS GP G A PTS    
17 Nic Petan* 71 46 74 120 82       1.69  
17 Ryan Nugent Hopkins 69 31 75 106 62 18 34 52 1.54 0.84
19 Jordan Eberle 57 50 56 106 69 18 25 43 1.86 0.62
19 Brendan Gallagher 54 41 36 77 44 15 13 28 1.43 0.64
19 Brandon McMillan 55 25 42 67 60 11 10 21 1.22 0.35
20 Matt Calvert 68 47 52 99 42 11 9 20 1.46 0.48
19 Gilbert Brule 27 23 15 38 78 9 10 19 1.41 0.24
19 Oscar Mollar 63 39 43 82 40 7 8 15 1.30 0.38
19 Sven Baertschi 47 33 61 94 20 3 7 10 2.00 0.50
19 Zach Boychuk 43 28 29 57 31 3 6 9 1.33 0.29

The NHLE for this group is 0.32, slightly higher than either the longer-view historical data used by Gabe Desjardins, or the more recent but similarly broadly scoped sample Vollman uses. Smaller forwards rarely make the NHL without an abundance of skill, so the higher number fits the narrative.

A narrower focus invites sample size issues. We can debate the effects of single players in such a small sample, but I think there is some balance to the sample and 0.32 passes the sniff-test for validity if nothing else. We’re not targeting a rocket-ship here, so I’m going to allow unconscionably large confidence intervals in our preliminary investigation.

(If you’re hyper-ventilating at my cavalier approach, start breathing in with ‘ANOVA’ and out with ‘t-test’ until you can get to the comments.)

Nic Petan’s NHL Equivalencies 

Factor Used: NHL Equivalency over 82 games

  • Vollman (0.26):  14-22-36
  • Desjardins (0.3): 16-26-42
  • McCartney (0.32): 17-27-44

(Obviously, my name does not deserve to be in that list but I had to call it something.) 

RNH Effect

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’s Calder-worthy performance in his rookie year is a high outlier in my sample. Had we employed the same sampling technique to his rookie season, the McCartney number would be meaningless in all likelihood. That said (and in spite of possibly breaking the natural laws of time), if we calculate his NHLE using the McCartney number now, we could have expected a season of 40 points – a number he demolished in just 62 games. We know his PP opportunity and performance were a big part of that. His case speaks volumes about the role these players step into, what kind of linemates and competition they have, puck luck, and the fallibility of prediction through averages. 

In some sense, we’re averaging not only performance, but opportunity on both sides of the ledger. 

Can we trust it?

There is a further knock on the pint-sized twine-bulger, and it’s that he played for a very high-powered team. The Winter Hawks scored a league-best 334 goals last year and both Brendan Leipsic (’94 birthday) and Ty Rattie (’93 birthday) crossed the century mark in scoring as well. 

In the aforementioned excellent draft preview post by Kent Wilson at Flames Nation, he gave us some key numbers to break that down a little further.

  • % of Scoring at EV: 67.5%
  • % Involved in Team Scoring: 37%

Both numbers are very encouraging, telling us that he was both a major contributor to his team’s scoring totals and did it mostly in the tougher discipline. For comparison, Ryan Nugent Hopkins scored just 45% of his points at even strength, but was in on 40% of his team’s scoring. 

Putting it all together

The question at the top is simple – how good is Nic Petan? If we add all the verbal about possession skills, anticipation, lane control, defence, and more, and we add that to math that puts him near the top of the class in a select group of small forwards to jump from Junior to the NHL… well, the answer is a little scary to write, knowing how vengeful the hockey gods can be of hubris.

*** We will return to this question with some historical comparables in the future

  • dmmccart

    I don’t think he will make the transition directly from junior to the NHL. It is not because he doesn’t deserve it, but more because of the way NHL teams usually make these decisions. Pedigree is so important to decision making in many front offices, and the result is that not only does Petan have to prove it because he is small, but also because he was not a first round pick.

    On this, I heard Scott Taylor on the radio saying that Chevy is telling Noel that Trouba and maybe Schief must be on the roster this season. I don’t know that this is true, but it speaks to the way the team is making decisions, and it only suggests that Petan will likely have to wait his turn to get his shot. Maybe a full career in junior and a half year or more in the AHL, then graduation?

    Regardless of how long he takes, sign me up for his fan club. I loved him in Penticton, I love his skill set, and I love his demeanour on the ice. Sigh….I’m smitten.

    • Kevin McCartney

      I understand the pedigree element, and certainly RNH probably doesn’t have an 18 year old NHL season if he’s taken even a few picks later. I definitely expect Petan to play out his junior years. As well, the team has 4 of its top 6 locked up long-term and Scheifele in the mix as well, leaving one longer-term spot in the scoring group as currently organized.

      Perhaps I’ll look into a list of high-scoring, under-sized WHL forwards who went the AHL route and see how he compares.

      That said, I don’t think it’s impossible Petan jumps to the NHL. Besides the chance for injury, of course, if the team ever solves some of its more glaring holes, we’ll begin to see the same conversation about Little as the Oilers had about their centres. Little is probably more Horcoff than Gagner, and though integral to the team’s top line currently, will be called out for his offence at some point in his career. I think there’s a reasonable line up with Kane/Scheifele/Wheeler, Lowry/Petan/(?), Ladd/Little/(?) that gets this team a little further.

      It’s also possible that the expectations for this team are a lot different 9 months from now when they’ve had a taste of the West. With Jokinen’s and Setoguchi’s contracts ending, the team will have a variety of options.

      A lot of moving parts, but you’re right that very guys taken at 43rd overall get straight to the show.